You’re An Alpha Sub? What Do You Mean By That?

If you ask someone to identify themselves by role, there are all kinds of hybrid combinations you might hear in reply. One that’s sure to cause confusion is the Alpha sub, because there are several different ways to use the term, and at least one is contentious in the community.


The term “Alpha sub” has a long tradition in the leather community in multi-person situations where there is a hierarchy. A household may have a Master, an Alpha slave and one or more other slaves. The slaves submit to the Master, obviously, but there is a negotiated hierarchy where the Alpha has some authority over the others in the household.


This idea of hierarchy also extends to pups, wolves and primals. I have a Rottweiler, and it is in his nature to be top dog. If he meets another dog in the park, it starts an immediate negotiation for dominance, and if the other dog doesn’t signal submission there is an altercation. Despite the dubious reputation his breed has got from TV and movies, he’s not vicious and he doesn’t eat small children for fun. But, his nature is to dominate, and that can’t be changed. At the same time, he knows exactly where he stands with me and everyone else he knows, and he happily accepts the pecking order.

Those involved in pet and primal play often bring this aspect of animal instinct into their dynamics. Alphas are dominant members of a pack.


The more recent usage of “Alpha sub”, and the one that causes the most contention in the kink community, has risen in parallel with the term “Alpha female” (or, more generally, an “Alpha personality”).

I don’t mean that to be sexist or insulting. It’s just that my experience has been that submissive males seem to have retained the privilege of not feeling required to highlight what might traditionally be thought of as “less feminine traits”.

In this usage, the term “Alpha sub” is used to indicate a woman who is submissive in her primary relationship role, but is frequently assumed by others to be a “dominant” person. Usually the kind of women the general population can’t imagine bowing down to anyone, male or female. Assertive, opinionated, directive, competitive, independent, not a doormat, etc etc.

The problem that many people have with this usage is that it assumes that people who don’t identify as “Alpha” are these things, and of course that’s very seldom the case. Are non-alphas weak, dependent, and not assertive, for example? Of course not. Submission is not in any way a weakness, so this is not a game of opposites. Nearly every submissive I have ever met, and certainly every submissive I have bothered to get to know, has been strong and able to take care of not only themselves, but the world around them.

Strong submissives are nothing new. It takes an inordinate amount of strength of character and will to submit in whatever way someone decides is best for them to submit. The level of trust and self-control it takes is nothing short of awe-inspiring.

I will defend your right to label yourself in whatever way works best for you. But, if you want to label yourself an “Alpha sub”, do be aware that other submissives are going to see that as divisive, and possibly insulting.

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